France gets a step closer to solar roads

On 26 July French energy minister Ségolène Royal inaugurated a manufacturing unit for the Wattway photovoltaic panels in Tourouvre, Orne. Wattway is a French innovation and is the result of 5 years of research undertaken by Colas, a transport infrastructure company, and the French National Institute for Solar Energy (INES).

The joint patent for the product is based on crystalline silicon, and although it is very thin, Colas argues it is also “very sturdy, skid-resistant and designed to last,” with the durability to bear all types of vehicles, including trucks. Wattway panels can be applied directly to existing pavements, with the aim of generating green electricity while also allowing traffic to flow.

The new manufacturing facility is adjacent to Colas’ headquarters in the village of Tourouvre, in France’s northwestern department Orne. The new facility is expected to speed up the panel production time, as the Wattway panels had previously been manufactured at the INES laboratory.

Colas is already taking orders for panels ranging from 10 m2 to 50 m2, however, as of 2017, Wattway panels will be included in the Colas product line and the panel surface will increase.

One of the first applications of the Wattway panels will be a 1 kilometer road in the Onre region, the local council has announced.

France’s energy minister took the opportunity at the event to also announce the mobilization of €5 million in state funding to support the development of the Wattway photovoltaic panel. Royal herself is a great support of the innovative patent and has often spoken publicly of the variety of projects the Wattway can be applied to.

A Wattway panel, said Colas, can last “at least 10 years depending on the traffic, which speeds up wear. If the section is not covered by heavy traffic – a stadium parking lot for example – then Wattway panels can last roughly 20 years.”

Furthermore, “given the technical issues involved in the connection process, the panels need to be installed by an authorized technician,” added Colas, who also expressed that “within the next two to three years, it will be possible to install Wattway panels on private roads and driveways.”